June 24, 2006

Children with Mentally ill Parents - News Report

Tim/Capricorn directed us to this good story out of Australia about children with mentally ill parents and special programs to help these children. It doesn't seem that there are any similar programs in the USA - if someone out there knows of any, please let us know.

"For children with a mentally ill parent, life is tough. But is there enough support for the growing number of children for whom parent-child role reversal is a reality?

Fifteen-Year-Old Jessica Alley is on "night patrol". While her friends go to parties, she stays at home watching over her mother Jodie, who is in the throes of a debilitating bipolar episode that began more than two months ago.

Night-time is always worse - sleeplessness aggravates Jodie's mental fragility. Leaving her alone in the house is not an option.

"In the state of mind she gets sometimes, you just have to be constantly there," says Jessica, a year 10 student from Melbourne's outer east, who has had to grow up faster than she might have liked. "When she's sick I'll stay home. It's so hard but what are you going to do? Are you going to go to a party or are you going to look after your mum? Of course you're going to look after your mum."

Jessica is among the 23 per cent of Australian children who live with a parent with a mental illness and witness mood swings, hallucinations, self harm and depression on a daily basis. Often they are the sole carer for a mother or father crippled with illnesses that, despite the efforts of mental health groups, are shrouded in shame and silence.

Researchers say these young people are at much higher risk of developing their own mental health problems than other children."

In Australia, they have special programs to help these children and families:

Without help, children like Tara and Jessica can be overwhelmed by guilt, anger and isolation. Peer support groups such as Paying Attention to Self (PATS), where the girls met, offer an outlet for them to vent emotions and have questions answered. But while there are groups battling on shoestring budgets throughout Victoria, it is a patchwork of coverage at best, with many areas having no support at all. While a State Government package of $2.4 million over five years to support children of mentally ill parents was announced in last month's budget, mental health workers fear it is not enough to cover vulnerable young people statewide.

A successful three-year pilot program funded by beyondblue, VicHealth and the Department of Human Services' mental health branch, has seen children who were struggling to cope with turbulent home lives blossom. VicChamps, a peer support group for five to 12-year-olds, and PATS for teenagers, give advice on who to call in a crisis and explain the complexities of mental illness. With the project due to end in September, organisers are still to hear if they will secure further funding to remain open.

Read the full story: Parental guidance

Australian Resources for Children of Parents with Mental illness:

Children of Parents with a Mental Illness

List of programs for Children of Mentally ill parents - throughout Australia

Paying Attention To Self (PATS)

Beyond Blue


A google search brought up a plethora of Australian sites re children caring for mentally ill parents but a blank re US sites.

Maybe sz.com could launch a campaign to highlight the need for similar support networks in USA. Co ordinate with NAMI etc.

Posted by: Tim at June 24, 2006 06:36 PM

Tim - its a good idea, and we'd like to do it, but we're just a small organization with a group of part-time contributors and we have a tough time just getting back to people vai email (as you have experienced). If its going to happen - it would have to be a larger, better funded group like NAMI - but even they are pretty small compared to the size of the problem. We'll work to raise awareness - and hope that others work take on the challenge of offering the services.

Posted by: szadmin at June 25, 2006 10:20 AM

It is absolutely amazing that there are no services for children of mentally ill parents in the US. It seems that the professional associations of psychology and psychiatry should be leading the effort to establish support programs for children of mentally ill parents. How, I wonder, did specific therapies for adult children of alcoholics (ACOA) become established in this country?

Posted by: Weasel at July 3, 2006 06:58 PM

There is a new site dedicated to Adult Children of Mentally Ill Parents, called ACMIP.com.
It's new but it seems like a good one

Posted by: friendly ACMIP at November 16, 2006 06:24 PM

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